Editorial Roundup:

The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. October 25, 2020

Voters left uneducated on coming school change

State officials love to point out more than half of the state’s budget is dedicated to education. It’s the go-to response when confronted with data on lagging teacher salaries or growing inequity among Indiana school districts.

But while many like to talk about how much schools cost, they are much less forthcoming when it comes to disclosing views on how those dollars are spent or who benefits. For Gov. Eric Holcomb, a key player in removing the state’s top education post from voter ballots, that extends to revealing whom he would appoint to the new cabinet-level position replacing it.

Having lost the right to elect a state superintendent of public instruction, voters deserve to know whom the governor will choose.

If Democratic challenger Dr. Woody Myers is elected, voters know exactly what to expect. Myers announced during Tuesday’s gubernatorial debate he will appoint Republican State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick to the new education post. On Thursday, Libertarian candidate Donald Rainwater said he would appoint Dawn Wooten, a Fort Wayne resident and adjunct English instructor who lost the nomination for state schools chief at the GOP state convention in 2016.

Holcomb has said only that he will appoint someone “that doesn’t need on-the-job training,” someone who’s “creative, innovative and is thinking about education in a holistic sense ... meaning all the above: K-12, charters, choice, home schooling, higher education, career training, etc.”

“I think a candidate who identifies key members of an administration is helping voters see how that candidate will run things,” said Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Purdue Fort Wayne. “Naming key members of an administration could help a campaign if that person has a good reputation.”

It undoubtedly helped Mitch Daniels in 2004, when he announced he would name Fort Wayne business leader Pat Miller as Indiana’s first secretary of commerce. After he was elected, Gov. Daniels issued an executive order to create the position, which was later codified in law by the General Assembly. Miller held the post for one year before returning to Vera Bradley, the company she co-founded.

Voters might not know the identity of Holcomb’s education pick, but they should know the appointee will not share McCormick’s views on public education. The governor and state superintendent, elected as part of the same Republican ticket, have had a strained relationship. Holcomb has been a reliable supporter of voucher and charter school programs; McCormick is a vocal critic of a school choice program that diverts millions of dollars from public schools each year.

“The rhetoric we’re hearing already – ‘teachers aren’t highly effective and they aren’t being evaluated correctly. It’s the same rhetoric from 2010,’ ” McCormick said in a recent online discussion with public education supporters. “It’s just setting the urgency to say ‘public school is so bad, teachers are so bad, that we have to expand choice.’ ”

Taxpayers have spent more than $1 billion on private and parochial schools since the voucher program began nine years ago. Last year, 7% of voucher families had household income in excess of $100,000. Federal authorities continue to investigate a virtual charter school scandal that likely involved more than $85 million in misspent funds.

McCormick also has warned of efforts to consolidate the Department of Education with workforce development and higher education.

“I think the State Board (of Education) will be brought under that umbrella. I think you’ll have a lot of consolidation,” she said. “I just hope the spirit of K-12 isn’t gobbled up in that.”

Tough decisions await as a result of state revenue reduced by the pandemic’s effects. Unfortunately, those same effects eliminated a vigorous campaign debate just as Indiana is set to make a major change in the structure of education governance. Without that debate, and without knowing who might speak and work on behalf of Indiana’s 2,000-plus public schools and 1.1 million students, voters might be surprised to find just how extensive the change will be.

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South Bend Tribune. October 24, 2020

Waiting for St. Joseph County leaders to act on face mask fines

During challenging times — in the midst of a public health crisis, for example — the public needs its elected officials to come together and make the tough but necessary decisions.

That’s why it was disappointing to see the St. Joseph County Council vote to table a proposed ordinance that would allow fines for violations of the county’s face mask order.

The 5-4 vote comes as the county is experiencing another surge in virus cases and hospitalizations that health officials say threatens to overwhelm health care facilities. With no vaccine yet available, there’s consensus among experts that wearing face masks — along with physical distancing and hand-washing — is the best way to stop the spread of the highly contagious virus.

The council is holding off on the proposed ordinance for a month, claiming it needs a deeper dive into several questions raised by opponents, as well as the possibility of an advisory opinion from the state on the measure’s constitutionality.

The tabled ordinance would help enforce the county’s mask ordinance, which runs through the end of the year. County health officer Dr. Robert Einterz proposed fines in July when the county was seeing an uptick in virus cases, and the health department was getting complaints about businesses not following the mask rule. The proposal would let the department issue fines of between $50 and $250 to businesses not enforcing the mask order among employees.

The health department and some council members in the summer expressed a desire to fast-track the ordinance, but the proposal didn’t have the unanimous council support required to speed up the hearing process. Council was expected to vote on the ordinance in September until the health department tabled it to give council members more time to hear public feedback.

The Tribune printed a Viewpoint last week signed by the four council members who were against, in their words, “kicking the mask fines ordinance down the road.”

The goal of this ordinance, they wrote, “is to keep businesses open, keep their employees safe, and allow all St. Joseph County residents the freedom to frequent those businesses knowing they are better protected from virus transmission.”

That sounds like a universal goal, yet it’s clear that our public officials can’t seem to reach a consensus on ways to arrive there. Look no further than the recent Tribune report that the “Unified Command” — the group of health care, public health and government leaders coordinating the local pandemic response — isn’t exactly unified on what measures to take. The mayors of South Bend and Mishawaka in particular are divided on additional measures to take.

The tabling of the mask fine ordinance puts off a possible council vote at least until Nov. 10. And so St. Joseph County residents must continue to wait for their leaders to act in their best interest.

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Kokomo Tribune. October 24, 2020

Sign up now for warnings

Seven years ago Nov. 17, on an unseasonably warm Sunday, Howard County residents received plenty of warning something bad was about to happen.

For most of the day, a steady wave of television and radio reports tracked a severe storm across Illinois into Indiana. When it reached Terre Haute, locals started to get worried. By the time it hit Clinton County, more than a dozen tornado spotters were in place and ready to report any cloud rotations or touchdowns.

“An hour and a half before it hit,” said now retired Emergency Management Director Larry Smith of the first tornado that day, “we put out several (warnings). When it got to the county line we put out our last, final warning and told everybody to take shelter. We had a tornado on the ground popping up and down. It would touch ground and pop back up.”

Thirty-two people sought emergency care after the storm; five people were admitted to the hospital. There were no deaths.

If you had a cellphone, you likely received texts, warning you to take immediate shelter. And when another severe storm approaches this area, you can receive such warnings on a home phone line or computer directly from the National Weather Service.

All you have to do is sign up at the Howard County government website, www.howardcountyin.gov. The technology will send messages to county residents through a variety of means, including home telephones, cellular devices, email addresses or faxes.

Log on to www.howardcountyin.gov and click on the “Emergency Alerts and Public Notices System” text below “Quick Links” at the left side of the page. From there, it will take you to a website powered by technology provider Everbridge. You only have to give your name, address and a phone number, but you can choose several ways in which to be notified of impending storms or floods.

If you don’t have access to the internet, you can sign up at any branch of the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library or in the lobby of the sheriff’s department offices at the corner of Markland Avenue and Berkley Road.

On the coming seventh anniversary of the tornado outbreak of Nov. 17, 2013, we urge all Howard County residents to sign up to receive these emergency alerts.

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